Could we be on the cusp of better weekend bus services?

Last Friday for Culture Night, Translink extended their bus services from 11pm until midnight.

I have always been incredibly frustrated that even on weekends our services end at 11pm, leaving people dependent on taxis or walking to get home. Belfast is a relatively small city, but I have always been a firm believer that even on the main arterial routes there was a case for continuing the bus services onto midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

On Culture Night, I decided to avail myself of the midnight service going up the Antrim Road and it was standing room only. I heard similar stories on other routes going up East and South Belfast which also were packed full of people coming home. I appreciate that this was a major event and it would be folly to argue that it would be like this all the time, but as Belfast’s night economy gradually develops with more bars and other entertainment facilities around the city the case for an extension is compelling.

In a Twitter exchange with the Translink Chief Executive he told me that they would be trailing midnight services this December

In the lead up to Christmas if you’re heading out for a meal or some drinks, take the bus and it could help improve our services in the long term.

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  • Zorin001

    Do they still run the Saturday night bus out of town? Used to get it at 2 am back to Bangor but we are talking around 15 years ago. Meant you could stay to last orders but boy it could be rough, and that was without any security on board too.

    This is good for those who live in the Belfast area wanting to get home after a night out but good luck if you live outside the metropolitan area, try asking for a taxi to Bangor on a Friday or Saturday night, you can be standing until 3:30-4am some nights unless you are lucky/brass necked enough to jump a queue.

    No doubt its worse for those who have to travel further afield home.

  • puffen

    Later trains out of Belfast would be appreciated, drunken behaviour permitting!

  • Zorin001

    Translink’s problem would not only be the increased expense of staffing and operating costs but security costs as well.

    I would welcome it personally but I can see the obstacles for the operator.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I simply can’t see why the increase in staffing and operational costs should be a prohibiting factor. A train company exists to provide train services. It is the provision of train services which generates its income. If providing additional services which people actually use is an impediment you might as well shut the train network down at 6pm and say, sorry we can’t provide later train services because of the additional staff and operational costs. We’re talking one additional later service on each of the four lines on a Friday and Saturday evening. That’s 8 additional train journeys a week. Would it even amount to an increase of 1%? Hardly beyond the wit of man.

  • AndyB

    The trains are all subsidised with public service obligation, because they don’t meet their costs, but they’re pretty essential to congestion.

    When the group is losing over £10 million a year, you can’t be going round adding to those losses.

  • AndyB

    It was taken off years ago because so few were using it – despite being rather cheaper than a taxi – and of course anti-social behaviour.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Train services aren’t only provided for the purposes of easing congestion. Train services after 7pm don’t ease congestion. The 7.15am service to carrickfergus does nothing to ease congestion. (There’s no one on it.) Neither does the 11.10pm service to Lane on a Monday evening. By your reckoning every service after 7pm is adding to the losses so translink might as well cancel them. But they don’t. They put on over 100 services after 7pm every week. So why not another 8? Unlike many of the services offered by translink these 8 additional services would bring in additional income to help offset any increased costs. In fact there’s nothing to say that these additional services wouldn’t be profitable – they could well be some of the most utilised services in the week.

  • AndyB

    They need the off-peak services primarily for travellers who need to use a peak service in one direction and off-peak in another. People who would otherwise drive both directions.

    Besides, the 7.15am from Belfast is kinda necessary if you want to have a train starting from Carrickfergus at 8:10.

    Ultimately, you’re totally missing the point. If they can only make a profit on peak services carrying hundreds of passengers like the 8:10 ex Carrickfergus, they’re not going to make a profit on a service carrying up to 50 drunks after midnight and probably needing to pay security guards. When you’re making a loss to begin with, it’s financially incompetent to run extra services without having enough subsidy to make up the income.

    To give you an idea of the picture, NIR got £17.8 million in 2016/17 to plug the revenue gap, which is £1.1 million less than they got in 2015/16.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I didn’t suggest they would make a profit. I suggested that the income they received would help offset the costs of running the service in a way that many of services translink run don’t. OK maybe I chose a poor example. Maybe I should have used the 10.15. The point is that the purpose of translink is to provide train services for passengers who require them. Not only car drivers. Why should people who want to leave the city at 12.30am not be provided for in the same way that those leaving the city at 9.30 or 10.30pm? I guarantee you there will be more than 50 people using it. And of course not everyone who socialises in Belfast is drunk. If you catch a late movie you will miss the last rain here me. And if drunkenness really is your argument then why run an 11.15 service in a Saturday night full of drunks? In fact why provide train services for people to get into the city at 7 or 8 pm of your aren’t going to run services to bring them home? I’m not suggesting that translink had to cough up the extra. The Executive could increase the subsidy to cover the 8 services. It would hardly cost the earth.

  • Zorin001

    I’d assume the latter fed into the former.

    I know I eventually gave up using the Bangor bus because I was sick of having to hear the “Billy Boys” being sung a full blast by a bunch of boozed up hoods; a few of whom I knew by reputation around town as being connected and with prior form for violence.

  • AndyB

    The executive needs to increase the subsidy anyway to take away the pressure to continually raise fares. The problem is they don’t increase the subsidy, and that’s why services get cut.

    If the politicians won’t pay for the timetable that was being run three years ago (and given how they short change all areas of transport), what hope that they would fund extra late night services?

    Basically, what you’re saying is all very well, but the politicians who govern public transport don’t understand that providing the service you want costs money.

  • AndyB

    On the point of offsetting, the failure to contribute to the costs of the service was why all the night buses got cut years ago!

  • AndyB

    I think even the hoods gave up because it went from two buses on both nights to one each night, and then Saturdays only – perhaps they were too drunk to get to the bus stop in time…

  • Zorin001

    Yes the 2am usually ended up being the insurance should I decide to remain in the Venue for one last tune!

  • NotNowJohnny

    But the point is that the Executive could pay for it. Just as it pays for free travel for people over 60. Just as it pays for community transport services. I actually thought you were arguing against increasing the financial burden on the taxpayer by putting on additional late night services but now I note you seem to be calling for an increase in the subsidy to prevent fare increases for passengers. If you agree that the Executive should fund public transport services then all I am saying is that the services it should be funding should include late night weekend services out of Belfast. We’re talking an additional 8 services a week here. Other cities can do it. Why not Belfast?